Kool-Aid Man Television Commercials, 1978

Exhibit / November 15, 2016

Object Name: Kool-Aid television commercials, “Pirates” and “Bank Robbers”
Maker and Year: Grey Advertising/General Foods, 1978
Object Type: 30-second television commercials
Source: YouTube/Bionic Disco/The Museum of Classic Chicago Television
Description: (Michael Grasso)

Kool-Aid was invented in Hastings, Nebraska in 1927 in the kitchen of salesman and inventor Edwin Perkins, who took one of his fruit juice patent recipes and dehydrated it. In 1953, Perkins sold the Kool-Aid recipe to food conglomerate General Foods (which had already gobbled up prominent brands Jell-O and Maxwell House in the 1920s), and thus began Kool-Aid’s ascent to nationwide fame. Under the guidance of Grey Advertising, Kool-Aid began marketing to kids in a multimedia blitz over print (especially comic books), in-store ads, and on the new medium of television. At the center of this campaign was “Pitcher Man,” an anthropomorphic pitcher full of original cherry flavor Kool-Aid.

By the 1970s, the Kool-Aid Man mascot had left the picnic table to become a huge, dynamic character capable of not only walking on his own two legs but busting through brick walls and answering kids’ calls of “Hey Kool-Aid!” with a response of “Oh yeah!” These two TV ads, both from 1978, feature the Kool-Aid Man at the height of his TV fame; a generation raised on the giant mascot costumes of Sid and Marty Krofft’s various Saturday morning productions didn’t raise an eyebrow at yet another slightly-uncanny giant mascot. The voice actor in these ads, Richard Berg, emulated a hip, raspy, Wolfman Jack-style voice.

Moreover, the ads feature a pirate crew (led by The Dukes of Hazzard‘s own Boss Hogg, Sorrell Booke) and 1920s gangster-style bank robbers, reinforcing the popular trope in children’s food advertising of the product being so desirable that someone would want to steal it. Unlike Trix’s Rabbit, Cocoa Puffs’ Sonny the Cuckoo, and Lucky Charms’ Lucky the Leprechaun, all of whom desired to either steal or hoard the cereals in their ads, Kool-Aid Man intrudes on the scene, disrupts and subdues the criminals, and generously shares the bounty with children and putative robbers alike.

In 1979, the year after these ads aired, the face of Kool-Aid Man began to be animated as in the old 1950s Pitcher Man ads. Into the 1980s, Kool-Aid Man began intruding on yet another new form of media, video games, with dueling cartridges for both the Atari 2600 and for Intellivision.

2 thoughts on “Kool-Aid Man Television Commercials, 1978

  1. I remember these ads along with the Dr. pepper jingle and the Coke ad where they used the Hillside Singers, Teach the World to sing, reworded to Buy the world a Coke line in it. Kool Aid were always those ads where you tried to imitate the voice OHHH YEEEAAAHHHH as a kid and I still HAVE my 1980 Atari 2600 game console with a big crate of games! Memories… thank you

  2. I don’t know how long those tots were held captive on that vessel in the first advertisement, but given what we know about the very real depths of human depravity, they surely endured sexual cruelty the likes of which no food coloring and sugar water can ever ameliorate.

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